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Pathways to Greatness (Book Review)

written by Suzann Pileggi 27 February 2009

Suzann Pileggi, MAPP '08, is a wellness writer and consultant. She is a monthly columnist for the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) newsletter and Wisdom magazine, and a certified holistic health counselor. Suzann's website.

Suzann's articles are here.

Suzann Pileggi, MAPP ‘08, is a wellness writer and consultant. She is a monthly columnist for the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) newsletter and Wisdom magazine. She is also a certified holistic health counselor. Suzann’s website.

Her articles are here.


Cover of Pathways to GreatnessBOOK REVIEW: Pathways to Greatness: 77 Inspirational Essays from The Greatness Project by Scott Asalone and Jan Sparrow
(*The book is available for purchase at http://www.greatinsightspress.com or at Amazon.com.)

Why do some people rise to the top while others languish? Are there personal characteristics that enable some individuals and groups to thrive during tough times? Fascinated by these questions, management consultants Scott Asalone (MAPP ’08) and Jan Sparrow set out to study greatness nearly a decade ago and compiled their findings in their new book, Pathways to Greatness: 77 Inspirational Essays from The Greatness Project. A must-read for anyone interested in identifying greatness, understanding it, and seeking to get more of it in life.

What initially began as a study to define greatness evolved into a quest to uncover those characteristics that people who were deemed “great” exude. The authors launched The Greatness Project™ with an email survey asking people about their personal views on greatness. Astounded by the enthusiastic response of the respondents – in particular, the personal stories they shared, and the overwhelming desire of everyone to know more about greatness and its respective qualities – Asalone and Sparrow were encouraged to explore greatness at a deeper level. Are these traits inborn or something that can be learned? The authors and respondents alike were curious to uncover the answer.

What is & What makes Greatness
Defined as “the optimal use of your resources and capabilities,” the authors illustrate how greatness is something that everyone can achieve and experience. Their brief and engaging stories of their experiences, and those of others, reflect that greatness is everywhere – in the ordinary and the extraordinary. We just have to open our eyes to see it. Greatness is “a truism that once you begin looking for something you tend to see it more often”, remark Asalone and Sparrow. That is what they began to experience in their daily lives. The reader not only has a chance to understand greatness at a deeper level but also the ability to learn the skills and build the traits in order to increase their own “greatness” in life.

Jan Sparrow and Scott Asalone

Jan Sparrow and Scott Asalone

Asalone and Sparrow tackle the question of “what makes greatness?” through the use of survey data, anecdotes, personal musings, and research they gathered of those who have achieved greatness within their chosen professions and paths of life. Addressing the behavioral habits of “great” individuals, the authors offer a variety of real-life examples that reflect the effort that greatness involves. The authors cite examples that include extraordinary, and ordinary folks alike – ranging from the intense preparation that legendary leader Jack Welch employed before leading top business meetings to Sammy, the passionate gas station attendant whose palpable enthusiasm for his job attracts hoards of customers who line up around the block for his service – despite the cost of gas.


Positive psychology practitioners will find that much of what Asalone and Sparrow address in terms of greatness parallels concepts in positive psychology. And, this book was started well before Asalone, fellow MAPP alum, even contemplated the thought of studying positive psychology – 5 years before the MAPP program begin, and just two years after the burgeoning field was founded by Dr. Martin Seligman. The authors were indeed ahead of their time.

The Book
As the title suggests, the book is divided into 77 short essays from The Greatness Project based upon the elements, qualities, and behavioral traits that the authors found people most commonly ascribed to those possessing greatness, including:

  • Interior Design
  • Finding Your Purpose
  • People First
  • The Gift of Gratitude
  • The Difference Is Zeal!
  • Because We Can

Through their clear, concise writing, and powerful storytelling, the authors have created an informative, uplifting, and inspirational book. Its easy-to-digest, essay format makes Pathways to Greatness a quick-read that will resonate with readers everywhere. From Asalone and Sparrow’s heartfelt recounting of their first hand experiences with the tragedy of 9/11 and how they were uplifted by the greatness of spirit they encountered in many others, to their everyday revelations from survey data, research, and workshops, the authors capture the essence of greatness, and it’s transformative and healing power. The Greatness Project survey data unequivocally show that great individuals are not defined by their material success but by their “search for meaning in life….something greater than themselves that will benefit others.” As G. K. Chesterton remarked, “The truly great person is the one who makes every person feel great.”

Like the authors creative use of storytelling to communicate their message, the book conveys that it’s not just what we do in life that matters, but the joy, passion, and zeal we infuse into what we do that gives our lives purpose and lifts us up to greatness. Perhaps in our quest for “greatness” we remember the graceful flight attendant’s remark about what enabled her to remain cheerful amidst disgruntled passengers – “There is so much anger in the world: I just try every day to bring in some happiness.” In the spirit of love that we celebrate this month, to quote the authors, we must remember to cherish our relationships that “provide balance during our growth toward greatness by grounding us in our humanity.”


  • The book contains a “Reflections Appendix” along with a “Greatness Project Challenge” that includes introspective questions designed to help readers take the first steps towards achieving personal greatness by helping them identify self-perceived impediments to greatness.
  • Readers can register for The Greatness Project, and receive Asalone and Sparrow’s inspiring monthly newsletter. Visit http://www.greatnessproject.com to sign up.

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Christine Duvivier 27 February 2009 - 5:12 pm

Suzie, thank you for your insightful, descriptive, and fun-to-read review. I can’t wait to read the book after reading your description!

I especially love the quote you give to define greatness, “‘the optimal use of your resources and capabilities…”

Thanks for alerting me to this!

Senia Maymin 1 March 2009 - 8:22 am

I must get this book! Scott, if you are reading this, your book with Jan looks absolutely super. The stories look bite-sized. It seems that you touch on the background of greatness and the reasons for greatness as well as concrete stories. Concrete stories are my favorite part of any book.

Thank you!

My best,

Kirsten Cronlund 1 March 2009 - 12:09 pm

I am inspired by this review. What is most exciting to me about the project is the idea that what makes people great is not the effort to become great, but the effort to contribute to the world in meaningful ways. The stories of people who exemplify this trait are probably elevating in the way that psychologist Jon Haidt outlines – causing others to be inspired to act similarly. I want some of that!

BTW, I clicked on the link to Amazon and it said that there are no copies currently available for purchase. Will they soon be there?

Thanks for the review, Suzie, and I look forward to reading the book!

Scott 2 March 2009 - 7:02 am

Okay, since Suzie is in India I thought I’d jump in and answer a few of the questions.
Christine… glad you liked the review. Suzie did a great job of reading the book and meeting with Jan and I to interview us. The quote about greatness was the definition I created for my Capstone in MAPP. My thesis was that Greatness should be the goal of psychology. So, I’m glad you liked the definition.
Senia, you’ve been wonderful promoting the book and my blog on Twitter, etc. Thank you.
Kirsten, Amazon just emailed me and asked for more copies of the book. I’ll send them out today. They don’t like to keep too many in storage. But you can order it immediately at http://www.greatinsightspress.com That is the publisher website. Thanks.

Marie-Josee Salvas 2 March 2009 - 11:48 am

I also very much like how greatness is defined here: “the optimal use of your resources and capabilities” is something achievable by all. Is is not some magic bestowed upon a few fortunate elite members of society. Rather, it is an empowering way to define greatness, thus making the topic compelling for all. Thank you for this!

Scott Asalone 2 March 2009 - 11:57 am

Glad you like the definition. Angela Duckworth told me to pursue publishing my capstone, but with the financial downturn I’ve been focused on making a living. The definition makes the study of greatness move viable.

Dave Shearon 3 March 2009 - 8:24 am

Thanks for this post, Suzann. Scott, the book sounds great. I have been working on my taxes and just totaled up my book purchases last year — youch!! But, I’m clicking over to buy this one. I have become more and more convinced of the power of stories — for leadership, teaching, and relationships. So, can’t pass up the opportunity to read these!

Scott Asalone 3 March 2009 - 9:11 am

Dave, I think you will resonate with much of what’s in the book and it will reinforce much of what you are already doing.

Leanrainmakingmachine 4 March 2009 - 9:57 am

If you buy and read lots of books, you might consider getting a Kindle2. It reduces the cost of books very substantially. Mine arrived last week and I do like it and its features.

Suzie 14 March 2009 - 4:12 pm

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for your comments, Christine, Senia, Kirsten, MarieJ, and Dave. I’m glad you enjoyed the book review and are excited to read Scott and Jan’s book. It’s amazing!!!! I highly recommend it!!!

I’m just checking the postings now. Scott, thanks for jumping in! As Scott mentioned, I was in India for the dedication of the new building of the Evershine English School that I helped start over ten years ago. I went online to reply to postings the day the article ran but due to the time difference there weren’t yet any postings up. I was in remote areas of the country and wasn’t able to get online again.

Anyhow, please definitely check out Scott’s amazing book. You can purchase it at http://www.greatinsightspress.com.
You’ll really love it! It’s very inspirational!



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